More Work Needed on Sam's Club HOWARD COUNTY

September 13, 1993

Just when it seemed dead in the water, the county's Zoning Board has resurrected the possibility of a warehouse store off of U.S. 40 in Ellicott City. The unanimous decision of the board would allow 18 acres of property on Ridge Road to be used for a members-only Sam's Club, an subsidiary of the retail giant, Wal-Mart.

Let there be no doubt, however, that before a single brick is laid, there is much work to be done to assure that this project is one that benefits the entire county and its residents. Early evidence suggests that county officials are moving in the right direction. There is talk of allowing apartments to be built as a buffer between the Sam's Club and residents of the nearby Ellicott Meadows town house community. Also, plans have surfaced to address traffic problems that would be generated along U.S. 40.

But this is only talk. The county hasn't gone far enough in protecting the interests of the residents. Not only must there be close scrutiny of Wal-Mart's site development plans; county officials, in order to avoid traffic snarls, need to redesign the intersection where the northbound ramp from Route 29 enters the Ridge Road business district.

Looming equally as large is the question of who will pay for upgrading any roads. Will it be Wal-Mart, the county or both?

County Executive Charles Ecker is right that the opening of a BJ's warehouse outlet on the Eastern fringe of Columbia has the potential of drawing customers away from businesses along the U.S. 40 corridor. For that reason, if no other, County Councilman Darrel Drown, who represents this section of the county, should be commended for coming up with a plan that the Zoning Board could endorse.

The board had previously rejected a zoning change request that would have allowed a Wal-Mart and Sam's Club together on the same property. The board contended that under the guidelines for piecemeal rezoning, Wal-Mart officials did not prove that a mistake had been made in the original zoning. The board's decision to give preliminary approval to a Sam's Club was done as part of the comprehensive rezoning of the Eastern part of the county, which does not require proof of a mistake.

Mr. Drown's plan offers an olive branch to both residents and the business community. Still more work lies ahead.

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